Fresh bracing morning air. A warm cinnamon apple donut. A brisk hike on a secluded nature trail. A festival for fall foliage to explore on mountain bikes. An apple orchard where you can pick your own and get your hands all juicy right there next to the apple tree. Acres of orange pumpkins in the field, your choice. A chilly evening hayride and bluegrass music. Trail rides on horseback through brilliantly colored mountain foothills. An evening round of golf when the sunset course is all yours.
My husband has sheepishly admitted that when he closes his eyes and thinks of Charlottesville in autumn, he envisions Middle Earth… a round door leading to a wonderful secret world. That world in Central VA features our comforting mountains; it almost feels like they hug you. People often ask me what we do here locally in Charlottesville for fun, and I can’t think of a better way to answer them… than to share links to a sampling of our local activities in October.
We don’t need to venture outdoors; we can stay home and roast marshmallows over a fire (I prefer s’mores). But we can also enjoy any of the wide variety of fall activities outdoors too. Below is a sampling and you can click the links for details, dates, and directions.
FALL FIBER FESTIVAL – Montpelier Station, VA
The Montpelier Fall Fiber Festival is a wonderfully happy event. It is held in the fields near James Madison’s home of Montpelier. It’s located so that you can browse the craft vendors and watch the amazing sight of sheep dogs competing to demonstrate their herding skills in the fields. (Learn the difference between a sheep dog and a sheepdog.) You’ll find fleece and fibers for sale, music, and animal exhibits too. The craftsmen are glad to give you demonstrations too.
I once fell in love at this festival…. with an adorable cinnamon colored lamb. This year held Oct 7 to Oct 8, 2017.
THE STEEPLECHASE RACES AT MONTPELIER ESTATE
Held annually on the grounds of James and Dolley Madison’s Montpelier home, these horse races take place on the first Saturday every October, rain or shine. It’s the best of Charlottesville’s equestrian traditions and we have a much more extensive article about the Montpelier Races and steeplechase in Virginia at the link above.
GRAVES MOUNTAIN RESORT APPLE HARVEST FESTIVAL
This event is held each year at the Graves Mt. Lodge on weekends. Graves Mt. a long tradition of autumn celebration and its own orchards where you can pick your own apples. You can watch them make apple butter and they also have a pumpkin patch, pre-picked produce for sale, food, arts and crafts, cloggers, and bluegrass music. Located at Graves Mountain Lodge, 3626 Old Blue Ridge Turnpike, Syria, VA – Oct 7 to Oct 22, 2017 Weekends only.
CARTERS MT. ORCHARD & MRS.CHILES PEACH ORCHARD
This has to begin with a tribute to Mrs. Chiles, a resident who’s had the vision to maintain the best of our orchards for everyone’s enjoyment. Her Carter’s Mt. Orchard sits atop an adventurously long winding drive up the side of Carters Mt. The views of neighboring mountains and valleys are breathtaking… you can see several counties. But your reward at the top is a full produce market where they make their own apple cider cinnamon donuts onsite. There may lines waiting to buy donuts and on busy days they limit the number of donuts per person. (I heard one guy try to bribe another person in line by offering his Rolex in exchange for 6 extra donuts… but I’m pretty sure it was a joke. Or was it?).
Mrs. Chiles Peach Orchard is at the other end of Albemarle County, just west of the town of Crozet. Yes, it’s an authentic peach orchard, set in the Blue Ridge foothills. During the autumn months, you’ll find apples and pumpkins there too. There’s a produce market, and you can pick your own fruit or buy it from the shop. And don’t leave without indulging in their homemade ice cream. Heaven. (they have peach ice cream in the summer and in the spring try their fresh strawberry ice cream too).
I want to give a tip of the hat to Mrs. Chiles who worked so hard to create and maintain these wonderful farm venues. Farming isn’t easy. Selling to the public isn’t easy.
THE ALBEMARLE CIDERWORKS
What would fall be without apple cider? Do you like it hot or iced? Spiced or plain? See? It doesn’t matter because cider is just plain good fun. If you fancy yourself to be a connoisseur of ciders, the Albemarle Ciderworks will be your favorite new place in the world. They have 7 varieties of ciders, each with a distinct flavor and apple source. The Ragged Mountain String Band. Let’s let them speak for themselves, CLICK HERE.
VIRGINIA FALL FOLIAGE ART FESTIVAL
The Virginia Fall Foliage celebration is held on the streets of downtown Waynesboro VA on Oct 14 to Oct 15, 2017. You’ll be able to join the fun and browse 150 artist’s offerings such as pottery, oil paintings, photography, and other local artist offerings. It’s a great way to support local artists and to enjoy a fall afternoon. Take time to explore downtown Waynesboro while you’re there too!
Visit a tropical garden full of colorful butterflies of all types. A great learning experience for the whole family. Beautiful colorful butterflies will flutter around you and you can even watch the butterfly nursery where the display has butterfly species that will emerge from their chrysalides. 1800 Lakeside Avenue – Richmond, VA through 10/15/2017
SHENANDOAH MOUNTAIN BIKE FESTIVAL
At the western side of Virginia, not too far from Charlottesville, is the George Washington National Forest. It’s gorgeous, almost primeval. For the past 21 years this bike festival has been held as a fundraiser where the proceeds go to improve trails in the National Forest. All riders are welcome and the event is held at the Stokesville Campground. It takes place over a weekend on Oct. 6-8, 2017.
DRUMHELLER’S ORCHARD – Corn Maze, Hayrides
Drumheller’s Family Orchard is in the magnificent mountain setting of Nelson County where the scenery is enough to fill your senses. Their fall festival will take place on Oct. 21 and Oct 22. Experience a wonderful fall weekend filled with beautiful scenery, delicious apples, apple butter, cider, and many family activities at Drumheller’s Orchard.
Dates: 10/21/2017 – 10/22/2017 – 1130 Drumheller Orchard Lane, Lovingston, VA
CORN MAZE AT LIBERTY MILLS FARM
Liberty Mills Farm in the Somerset area of Orange County VA takes its seasonal corn mazes seriously! Each year Liberty Mills Farm has several elaborate corn mazes for you and your family to explore. They even offer nighttime flashlight maze events. There’s a farm market too. They are located at 9166 Liberty Mills Road in Somerset, VA and their festival runs through 11/11/2017 this year.
SARAH’S PUMPKIN PATCH, ORANGE VA
Choose from 3 acres of pumpkins in the field or buy them from the Sarah’s Pumpkin Patch market stand in Madison County. There’s a farm market, tractor-pulled hay rides, and games for the kids.
146 Caves Ford Lane, Orange, VA 22960. Phone: (540)308-8267.
HIKING AND TRAIL WALKING
45 miles of the Appalachian Trail lies within Nelson County, and the hiking can’t get any prettier than this. There are other (shorter) hikes in the Blue Ridge as well, CLICK HERE. There is also the popular Charlottesville selection of trails including the Rivanna River Trails, Shenk’s Greenway, and the many city parks. Albemarle County offers over 70 miles of trails for walking or hiking including the Ragged Mountain and Ivy Creek natural areas.
MY FAVORITE PUMPKIN PIE CHEESECAKE recipe below
I’ve saved the best for last. This is an indulgence that I save only for an autumn celebration, not because I don’t want it more often (I do)… but because I can eat the whole thing in one sitting and I’m pretty sure that might not be good for me. Below is how you can make this for yourself.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
FIRST STEP: MAKE THE CRUST:
30 squares gingersnap cookies
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
– – Add the gingersnaps to a food processor, and pulse until crumbly (or roll till crumbly with rolling pin). Transfer to a large bowl and add the melted butter. Stir until evenly mixed. Press the mixture into the bottom of a greased 9-inch springform pan with 3-inch sides. Bake the crust until golden brown, about 10 minutes.
2ND STEP: PREPARE THE FILLING:
Four 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar
One 15-ounce can pumpkin
5 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons flour
Pour above mixture into cooked pie crust: Bake at 350 degrees until the center of the cheesecake moves slightly when the pan is gently shaken, about 1 hour and 20 minutes. Cool to room temp then chill for at least 4 hours. (If you have the patience to wait longer, you’ll get a great soft gooey texture that’s perfect)
CINNAMON WHIPPED CREAM:
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Want to add my final indulgence? Top the whole thing with a little drizzle of chocolate syrup. Happy Autumn!